Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Some Notes About Top Cat

The success of The Flintstones in 1960 begat a number of other prime time cartoons the following season. All of them were single-season failures. One was Top Cat, which found life in reruns.

The trade magazines followed the short trend of “adult cartoons,” and Variety published numerous little squibs on T.C. and his gang encompassing the period from when the show was in development to when it went into reruns. We’ve compiled them in one post, minus some of the longer stories about the rise and fall of “adult cartoons,” but included reviews of the debut show from both the Daily and Weekly editions. We’ve added a few other little notes from some of the other trades.

Just as the original choices for Fred Flintstone and George Jetson never played those roles when their shows finally aired, the first voice of Top Cat was replaced with Arnold Stang. And Joe Barbera expostulated to Variety on why he thought T.C. ended up not grabbing an audience in prime time.


October 26, 1960 (Weekly Variety)
Hanna-Barbera's $6,000,000 For Stepped Up '61
[Joe] Barbera additionally revealed that success of the adult cartoon series, "The Flintstones" (now airing on ABC) has keyed interest in another family-type series. Talks already have been held with Screen Gems, and H-B currently is working on a character for the series which is expected to be ready for airing next fall.

November 7, 1960 (Weekly Variety)
NEW HANNA-BARBERA ENTRY EYED BY ABC
Within the next month, ABC-TV will decide whether it'll have a second Hanna-Barbera animated entry in a prime time slotting next season. Web, "under certain circumstances," has rights of first refusal on H-B product, which is sold by Screen Gems. H-B is now doing "The Flintstones," a situation comedy in animation, scheduled on ABC-TV.

December 19, 1960
Sponsor magazine reports Top Cat is among the shows picked up by ABC-TV.

December 27, 1960
Boom In TV Cartoon Production
Hanna-Barbera was first to break the network barrier in prime time, but it had other winners going for them in syndication. These included "Rough And Ready," [sic] "Quick Draw McGraw," "Yogi Bear" and "Huckleberry Hound." Cartoonery will make another bid for network time next season with "Top Cat."

February 6, 1961
Broadcasting magazine lists Top Cat on the proposed ABC fall schedule at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

February 24, 1961
Record February TV Sales Season; ABC's $75 Mil
New York, Feb. 23. — ABC-TV prexy Oliver Treyz disclosed today that the web has grossed over $76,000,000 for next season. Other two networks are reportedly matching that pace to make February a record selling month, especially so far ahead of the fall semester. ...
ABC gathered in $22,000,000 from Procter & Gamble, some $7,500,000 from Alcoa and about $2,500,000 for alternate weeks of Hanna-Barbera's "Top Cat" at 8:30 Wednesday among the new buys.

March 6, 1961 (Sponsor)
Both the new Calvin & the Colonel and Top Cat series have been sold on this basis: $76,455 gross per program. Average for the 26 original and 26 repeats: $38,250 gross.

March 13, 1961
Broadcasting magazine lists Top Cat on the proposed ABC fall schedule at 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, with Bristol-Myers and Kellogg as co-sponsors.

April 19, 1961
Alan Dinehart 'Top' Hanna-Barbera Aide
Alan Dinehart has been signed as associate producer on Hanna and Barbera's new fall tv cartoon series entry, "Top Cat" Dinehart will continue as associate producer on "The Flintstones."

March 1, 1961 (Weekly Variety)
B-M's 'Top Cat' Coin
Bristol-Myers has decided on a half-sponsorship next season of the new Hanna-Barbera animated situationer, "Top Cat." They joined Kelloggs.
ABC-TV, which underwrote "Cat," has slotted in Wednesdays from 8:30 to 9 p.m.
(Note another story in the same issue said Bristol-Myers put up $2,000,000 for T.C. on Feb. 23).



April 24, 1961 (Sponsor)
It's been one of those program selling seasons where deals in several instances were consummated without the benefit of pilots.
Examples: the new Robert Young show, Top Cat, Calvin & the Colonel and, possibly, the new version of Ichabod.

May 8, 1961
O'Shea 'Cat’s' Meow
Michael O'Shea will be the voice of "Top Cat," the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series for ABC-TV.
Previously set were Maurice Gossfield, Allen Jenkins and Leo DeLyon.

June 26, 1961
Sponsor magazine reports "Top Cat" will cost sponsors $38,000 a week.

June 28, 1961
Screen Gems Sets Canadian Deal
Screen Gems foreign department has made the first sale of a series produced in Canada by a Hollywood company for Canadian broadcasting.
Series, "Showdown," will tee up on the new CTV Network. It is the opener of a series of shows planned for Canadian production by SG, which also has sold its "Top Cat" to CTV. "Showdown" will be produced live in Montreal.
Lloyd Burns, veepee of SG's foreign department, reported 40% increase in sales over the same period last year.

July 19, 1961
Weekly Variety has a lengthy story about the H-B studio, stating “A year's search was made for "Top Cat's" mouthpiece. Among hundreds who auditioned were Andy Devine, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lester, Larry Storch, Mike O'Shay, Max Rosenbloom. Arnold Stang was finally tapped.” The full story is in this blog post

September 11, 1961 (Army Archerd column)
GOOD MORNING: Five minutes talk and a coupla fast sketches by Hanna-Barbera were all that were needed to convince Columbia's Abe Schneider to okay a feature version of their Yogi Bear . . . Long-sold on the cartoon bar's vidpopularity, Schneider required no further proof — such as Kellogg's revelation to H-B last week that 40 million boxes of corn flakes with Yogi's birthday gift offer of a comic book is already a sellout. That's a lotta com flakes! . . . It was inevitable that this news follows the pattern of the remarkable cartoon kids: six sites have been offered to build H-B amusement parks, a la Disneyland, natch, but on a smaller scale. Rides to fit their cast of celluloiders, Yogi, Huckleberry, Flintstones, Top Cat, etc. and the habitats for the characters who will fill a three-acre studio H-B is now in the process of building . . . Current plant so busy, much dubbing done with humans on the run, such as Saturday a.m.'s session at Mel Blanc's house. You'll be happy to hear he is progressing very well.

September 27, 1961 (Weekly Variety)
A Screen Gems Primer On How to Promote A Cartoon (‘Top Cat’)
ABC-TV is preeming "Top Cat" tonight (Wed.), but there was a problem originally of how to promote the cartoon series via one of tv's traditional pre-preem road tours to warm up local audiences.
Screen Gems, the outfit that sold "Cat" to the web, solved the touring problem. SG flack chief Gene Plotnik, giving his show the edge over the three other cartoon series preeming this fall, got producer Hanna-Barabera to have Arnold Stang and Maurice Gosfield, the show's main voices, prerecord five-minutes of banter with local tv emcees. Gosfield and Stang ask the questions and spaces are left on the disk for answers, which any local performer can answer.
That accounts for the voice part of promo. As for "bodies," Plotnik got Eaves to turn out costume replicas of the cartoon characters involved, Top Cat and his pal Benny the Ball, which are being bicycled around to ABC affils in special containers. Costumes have been worn by office boys and flack gals at the local station level, who have gestured, mimed and danced to the words of Stang and Gosfield.
The "Cat" has played nine major markets since Aug. 15.
Main trouble? Plotnik says that there were no press interviews as on other promo tours. "With the press these days," he says, "you can't get down the answers in advance."

September 29, 1961
TOP CAT
(The $1,000,000 Derby)
Wed., 8:30-9 p.m., KABC-TV
Filmed by Banna-Barbera Production
for Bristol-Myers Co. and Kellogg Co. Co-producers and directors, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera; teleplay, Harvey Bullock; camera, Frank Paiker; editor; Joe Ruby; animator, Ken Muse; music directors and composers, Bill Hanna and Hoyt Curtin.
Cast: Voices of Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Marvin Kaplan, Leo De Lyon, John Stephenson.
Add another telecatoon to burgeoning field with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's new concoction of animated cats. Co-producers and directors earlier did much to start the ball rolling with their popular “Huckleberry Hound.” Thus, it is something of a disappointment to note new series' premiere episode doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. Show has every delightful element of a kiddie funny but, for the 8:30-9 p.m. timeslot, needs more depth to successfully capture all-family audiences.
General theme, patterned after comedy vein of Damon Runyon's New York characters, involves “Top Cat” (“T.C.”) as leader of a lovable gang of alley cats which maneuvers itself through kind of slick activities that generally turn out less profitable than planned. Animation is appealing and, coupled with popularity of several known comics as voices, some charm comes through. Arnold Stang has just the right twang for title voice, with Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Marvin Kaplan, Leo De Lyon and John Stephenson fitting well as regulars. Dale.

Oct. 4, 1961 (Weekly Variety)
TOP CAT
With Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Marvin Kaplan, Leo DeLyon, John Stephenson
Prods.-Dircs.: Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera
Writer: Harvey Bullock
30 Mins.; Wed., 8:30 p.m.
BRISTOL-MYERS; KELLOGG
ABC-TV (film)
(Younq & Rubicam; Leo Burnett)
Is ABC-TV pushing a good thing too far? On the strength of its click with "The Flintstones" last season, the web is now riding with another "adult" animation series out of the Hanna-Barbera studios which previously made its mark with the "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw" kiddie-slanted cartoons. But where the moppets are fixated by virtually anything on the tv screen, adult audiences are at least one notch more discriminating and a follow-up to "The Flintstones" would have to be doubly sharp in order to justify another cartoon show.
"Top Cat," on the basis of its Introduction last Wednesday (27), did not measure up to the demands of a prime nighttime entry. Based on the antics of a hip-talking flock of easy-living felines, "Top Cat" registered as a simple comic strip with no point of view to give it a special cutting edge. However, there's always the calculation that the millions of grown-ups who turn to the comic strips before the editorial pages in their daily newspapers will find entertainment and intellectual stimulation in "Top Cat."
The scripting for this series strikes a jivey, wise-alecky note in a diluted neo-Runyonesque style. The opening show had occasional flashes of wit, but the patter was generally a routine brand of hip jargon. The characterizations of the various cats were amusing in an elementary sort of way and the story of their attempt to enter a horse in the big race was hardly an example of originality.
Since "The Flintstones" has already exploited the novelty appeal of the cartoon genre, "Top Cat" will have to come up in subsequent weeks with a fresh angle to rate in the bigtime competition. Herm.

October 2, 1961 (Broadcasting)
Ratings (* = debut)
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. Rating and Share
*Top Cat (ABC) 17.9 32.7
musical special (CBS) 7.5 14.2
Joey Bishop (NBC) 24.8 45.5

October 9, 1961 (Broadcasting)
Ratings
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. Rating and Share
Top Cat (ABC) 13.4 23.1
*Checkmate (CBS) 17.2 29.5
Joey Bishop (NBC) 23.5 41

October 11, 1961 (Weekly Variety)
WBKB, Chicago, again is doing Barnumesque exploitation for the new shows on parent network, ABC-TV. As It did last year, the Chi o&o again is calling particular attention to certain new series by sending gag reminders of the premieres to the various tv editors.
For "Top Cat," for instance, the station sent out symbolic trash cans (large size), packaged smartly and delivered by Marshall Field & Co.

November 1, 1961 (Weekly Variety)
‘Untouchables’ Other ABC Shows In Client Trouble
Because of the unexpectedly slow rating start this season on many of its participating hour and regular half-hour programs, ABC-TV is up against a series of unsettling events all stemming from Madison Ave. ...
Bristol-Myers is known to want out of "Top Cat," which makes another sponsor retreat in the fateful week past for ABC.
Last of the known rough situations is that Whitehall Pharmacal has left its position on "Calvin & the Colonel," which like "Cat" is a new ABC-TV animation series. Furthermore, Lever Bros., the other "Calvin" sponsor, has allegedly got a deal whereby it is picking up little more than time charges at the moment.

November 21, 1961
ABC-TV Talks Of Exhuming ‘The Rebel’ If Top Cat Is Skinned Of Sponsor
ABC-TV is negotiating for revival of "The Rebel," telefilm series that starred Nick Adams on the network last two seasons. Web is talking about renewed "Rebel" as midyear replacement for "Top Cat," Hanna-Barbera animation series now in 8:30 p.m. Tuesday niche.
If such a deal jells it would mark one of few times an axed vidpix skein has been exhumed after going out of production and may be unique in that It would return to the network which dropped it.



November 22, 1961
DESPERATE BIDS TO KEEP CLIENTS
The new tv season is only two months old, but this is already the week when a lot of 'programs on the three networks come up for grabs. For this is the week when notification on cancellation occurs on all the dubious entries on which sponsors have committed themselves for 13 weeks. ...
There's a plot afoot at ABC to move both "Top" Cat" and "Calvin and the Colonel" into Saturday night as back-to-back 7:30 to 8:30 cartoon entries, thus filling the gap by the vacating of "Roaring '20s." Both cartoon shows in their present berths are hurting.

Slang's "Cat' Prowl
Arnold Stang leaves Friday for three-week tour on behalf of "Top Cat," Hanna-Barbera telecartoon series for which he dubs vocals. Actor, accompanied by Arnold Carr, visits Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and New York and will cut individual promotions for use In each area on radio and television. He returns Dec. 8.

December 1, 1961
ABC-TV Orders 4 More Segments Of ‘Top Cat’
ABC-TV has ordered four more segments of Hanna-Barbera's "Top Cat" to round out an even 30 which will take the cartoon series through March. Understood the extra episodes allow for enough repeats to finish out the season. Cartoonery is also expecting orders from Kellogg for further segments of the nationally syndicated (190 markets) "Quick Draw McGraw," "Huckleberry Hound" and "Yogi Bear."

December 13, 1961
Despite ‘Bad Season For TV Cartoons’, Hanna-Barbera Readying 5 More
Hanna-Barbera Productions is readying five new half-hour animation projects, despite acknowledgment by Joe Barbera yesterday that "It's been a pretty bad season for cartoon shows." Scripting the new projects are Warren Foster, Mike Maltese, Tony Benedict, Harvey Bullock, Ralph Wright, Jack Raymond and Dalton Sandifer.
Hanna-Barbera ignited the animation trend with their success via "The Flintstones," but neither H-B with its "Top Cat" nor any of the other new animation entries have even faintly approached the success of "Flintstones."
Barbera opined that it's been a dismal season for the new cartoon shows because (1) "from Monday through Thursdays animation shows shouldn't be on after 8 p.m." and (2) "I don't think there is enough talent around to make these shows."
He said H-B Productions is setting up a training course to develop animators, writers and others needed for animation entries. Barbera pointed out "for 15 years not one new person was trained for this business. Movie cartoons were going downhill during that period. Consequently people left the business to write comic books, become artists, turn to other fields. So suddenly we are faced with a great shortage in talent, writing, all the means we need for animation." He admitted H-B's own new entry, “Top Cat,” has had its troubles, but a attributed it to the time slot on ABC-TV, and added the network recently picked the show up for four more segs, making it 30.
As for the company's new product, he said, "We want to prove there is nothing wrong with a good cartoon show." "The Flintstones" is currently being seen in 39 countries, he added. Barbera said he was not free to disclose the names of his new properties at this time.
(The Weekly Variety version of the story said they would be presented to Screen Gems execs in N.Y. in January).

December 27, 1961
Demise of the Steve Allen show on ABC-TV, opening up the Wednesday 7:30 to 8:30 periods effective next week, has cued a reshuffling of the network schedule and the earmarking of the 7:30 to 8 period for a news program. A top news man has been chosen to helm the program. (Although the network ain't saying, it's understood to be Howard K. Smith, CBS-TV's former Washington bureau chief who ankled that network as result of a policy hassle.) The new program will premiere Feb. 14.
Going into the 8 to 8:30 Wednesday slot will be "Straightaway" in a moveover from its present Friday 7:30 period. Going into the Friday period will be the animated "Top Cat" series in a switchover from Wednesday at 8:30, and taking over the Wednesday 8:30 period will be the new "Room for One More" half-hour series.

April 2, 1962 (Broadcasting)
Transogram Inc., New York, has bought Top Cat, ABC-TV program which will occupy Saturday, 11:30 -12 noon slot next fall. Agency: Mogul, Williams & Saylor, New York.


As you can see, Top Cat was already in trouble about six weeks after it debuted. Vernon Scott of United Press International reported on December 1st that replacements for T.C. had been developed by Hanna-Barbera, including The Jetsons and a show starring the Gruesomes.

Despite Top Cat owing a lot to Phil Silvers’ Sergeant Bilko and characters in Runyon novels, neither of which are aimed at children, Top Cat did well during kid time on Saturday mornings and in syndication. If it hadn’t, the show wouldn’t still have large numbers of fans today.

You can read more Top Cat-related posts here.

5 comments:

  1. "TOP CAT" stayed on Wednesday nights for the remainder of the 1961-'62 season {"ROOM FOR ONE MORE" appeared on Saturdays at 8pm during the second half of the season; "THE SOUPY SALES SHOW" replaced "STRAIGHTAWAY" on Fridays for 13 weeks, beginning in January 1962}, then appeared on ABC's Saturday morning schedule for one season, and eventually syndicated by Screen Gems/Columbia (color prints were finally used, as ABC originally telecast it in black and white). There were also Saturday morning repeats on NBC, from 1965 through '69.

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  2. That was great, Yowp. Really enjoyed the timeline. " Calvin and the Colonel ", Wow, that's one I haven't seen since it aired.

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  3. Not everyone in the viewing audience disliked "Top Cat." My parents and I loved it in its first run and later when the show appeared on Saturday mornings. My father's favorite character was Benny the Ball--he thought Benny was absolutely hilarious. We all loved seeing Top Cat put one over on Officer Dibble.

    I guess the fact that the lead character wasn't human may have kept some viewers away, thinking it was a cartoon for kids only. However, some of the humor in "Top Cat" is VERY adult. And the show was extremely sophisticated for its day--maybe TOO sophisticated? (Check out Jean Van der Pyl's amazing voice work as a variety of characters, particularly the sexy female cats who frequently appeared.)

    However, despite the low ratings, "Top Cat" could boast a lot of talent and quality--in the writing and the vocal performances especially--and H-B deserved a hit with this one. It is one of their most outrageous, hysterically funny, and "adult" comedy shows.

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  4. 3/12/16
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    Interesting that bgrauman has mentioned "The Soupy Sales Show" on ABC's time slot around this period of "Top Cat's" original scheduled airings on ABC's Prime Time lineup. Soupy Sales's TV show at this time was still distributed by Metromedia TV and Mr. Sales had just left the Detroit area two years earlier for this TV series broadcasted live on the air in New York City. Soupy was just to about to have a falling out with Metromedia and was just about to sign a contract with New York TV station WNEW-Channel 5, which would have worldwide distribution with Top Cat's distributor, Screen Gems Television. It's too bad that "Top Cat" failed in this prime time slot. ABC was still struggling behind NBC and CBS as the third rated network, a reputation they would have until around 1973, with shows like "Happy Days" and "Laverne And Shirley" would a decade later propel them to the top of the network heap, pushing rival NBC directly to third place in the ratings department. There were probably too many adults at the time with kids who argued about what to watch that evening, with many adults getting the upper hand wanting to watch a middle-aged comedian like Joey Bishop, or spectacular specials that CBS was offering. "Calvin And The Colonel" would not be re-run these days, because the resemblance to the creators of "Amos And Andy" (which the show was based on in animal form instead of African-American human form) would draw too many protests from Racial groups that had sour memories of "Amos And Andy" on TV back in the 1950's aired on CBS, and sponsored by Blatz Beer, even if "Calvin & The Colonel" had the talents of Bob Mosher & Joe Connelly (also of "Leave it To Beaver", "The Munsters", "Karen", "Pistols And Petticoats", etc. fame through their Kayro/Vue TV productions and Universal TV distribution as their producers.) Seeing "Top Cat" in reruns today can be fairly discouraging for TV fans of original TV credits and TV logos like myself, who would find to their dismay the same mixed-up closing credits as on "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons". The reason was by Turner Broadcasting Division and later Warner Brothers Animation Division was to remove any references and logos relating to Screen Gems Television/Color By Pathe and ABC Television. Like repeats of "The Jetsons" on NBC during the 1960's it's unknown to me if repeats of "Top Cat" on NBC Saturday Mornings from 1964-67 had The Screen Gems' Dancing Sticks logo or the 1965 Screen Gems "S From Hell"/Film Reel logo.I'd like to know if anyone else who saw repeats of "Top Cat" in the 1960's remembers any of these references. Colpix Records, which was Screen Gems' Record Division issued a rare TV soundtrack in 1962, which is now a collector's favorite among H-B collectors and collectors of children's products of the 1960's. And yes, Arnold Stang and Maurice Gottsfield did provide voices of Top Cat and Benny The Ball on this rare album.

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  5. When I was a little kid, my colleagues were in love with Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson, David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman. I was in love with TC. I guess I can see why the show might have not made a splash during its 1961 prime-time run; it might have freaked some people out to see appealing cartoon characters involved in grownup situations speaking Damon Runyan lingo. When I was a little kid, TC aired on one of our local UHF stations (yes, I said UHF; in those days, "cable" meant something used to connect something to something else), and I remember adoring the characters but having a lot of trouble trying to figure out what they were talking about and why they were doing what they were doing. When I grew up, I understood the story-lines and dug the wit of the show while the characters continued to tickle my child-fancy. In my opinion, H-B Productions never again made a cartoon that topped Top Cat! PS: Bless you a million times, Yowp, for your splendid Site!!

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